Please Enforce Hennepin Avenue Bus + Bike Lanes

You may have heard that taking the bus through downtown Minneapolis is slow as hell. It’s true. You also may have heard that most local bus routes that run north-south through downtown have been re-routed from Nicollet Mall:

… and will be re-routed again to Hennepin Avenue on November 7th thanks to a very worthy protected bike lane and pedestrian improvement project over on 3rd Avenue:


In a couple days, Hennepin Avenue is going to be jam-packed with buses. Emigrated (and excellent) writer Alex Bauman shows us just how many we can expect during weekday AM and PM peak hours:


For those counting at home, Marquette and 2nd Avenues dedicate two lanes each for suburban express routes, and it’s widely known to be at capacity already despite only being about five years old.

The good news is that Hennepin technically has a bus lane (did you know that? I bet many didn’t!). Okay, it’s a bus, bike, and right-turn lane. And it’s really poorly marked and designed. A single, nondescript sign at the start of each block with a faded sharrow painted on the pavement basically tells people (especially the ones visiting downtown for the first time in a while) that driving in this lane is probably okay. Anecdotal experience and “driving” on Google Streetview confirm people cruise in this lane without turning right all the time.

There’s a lazy (but true) argument that local routes have been relegated to Nicollet Mall and this Hennepin Ave “bus lane” while suburban commuters get multiple lanes and nicer bus stops. I’m not making that argument today, so let’s keep it out of the comment section.

The bigger point here is that Hennepin Avenue will now have roughly as many buses per lane per hour as Marquette/2nd with roughly the same number of people boarding per day.


The data may be old but the ratios are likely similar.

Word on the street? A recipe for disaster. Even with just the legally right turning cars, scofflaw cyclists riding the gutter pan, and no second dedicated lane for buses to easily pull into to pass other buses, things will be slow. Add in that the boarding process for local routes is much slower than suburban express routes, which typically pay as you exit rather than individual card tap or cash payment at boarding (plus people can be terrible about moving back, exiting properly, and such). So, we’re talking VERY slow. Buses will bunch, children will weep, millennials will curse into the Twitter Void. Until the end of 2017!

There’s a good case here to roll out an Emergency Installation of All Door Boarding for the routes affected. San Francisco’s Muni buses implemented all-door boarding at very little cost and saw great results on the whole. The downtown routes and stops would be a good case study for a system-wide implementation down the road. I’m hoping the comment section can identify some other options for Metro Transit to speed these buses up.

Enforcement Needed

As I said before, my anecdotal experience as both someone who bikes down Hennepin and also rides buses along it tells me the right-turn only rule for drivers is barely enforced. Without doing a data request to the Minneapolis Police Department, my guess is that fewer than 25 citations are issued a year for this behavior.

At the very least, the Police Department and Traffic Control need to step up citations for drivers violating posted rules. I’d actually like to see Public Works lay down some red or green paint in the lane to more clearly mark this space as bus and bike only. I’d even go so far to suggest we ban right turning movements entirely; I’ve been in many buses slowed down by a car waiting to turn right while pedestrians to cross with the signal. I’m not sure how well this would go over.

Either way, tens of thousands of people using buses downtown will be affected by this change. There are plenty of novice bus users who may be turned away for life from transit if we let our most prominent local routes suffer more than necessary for two years. Let’s make the absolute best of a crummy situation, even if it means a few motorists get ticketed or need to find alternate routes (or, thinking way outside the box, alternate modes!) through downtown.

26 thoughts on “Please Enforce Hennepin Avenue Bus + Bike Lanes

  1. Alex

    Good luck. I was told by a Public Works official that the Bus-Bike-Right Turn Only designation was removed because it was too confusing. So I don’t think that what is there is at all enforceable. The official and the policymaker that I was discussing this with (in 2013) were not at all interested in using the standard reserved lane design (like St Paul uses or used on 6th St). They were not explicit about it, but it is clear that bus transit is not a priority for Public Works or most Minneapolis Councilmembers. Even if there was a public outcry about the mess that is sure to happen on Hennepin, they would likely insist on a years-long “public process” about it. Bus riders in Minneapolis are screwed.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      If this is unenforceable as is, why not make it a “bus only shoulder” with short right-turn lanes (buses/bike exempt) as needed?

      The bus-only shoulder concept is widely applied across the metro, and I would think a solid white line (and clearer designation as to how far right-turning vehicles may use it) would help.

      1. Monte Castleman

        That sounds like a good idea. While I’m sure a lot of motorists are deliberately acting illegally, there’s probably a lot of ones that are not. It’s a recognized phenomenon that on urban arterials, all the information: pedestrians, vehicles, street signs, billboards, street furniture, there can lead to information overload where a motorist doesn’t even see a small sign- myself I’ve made an illegal turn on red before simply because I didn’t see the small NTOR sign at an unfamiliar, visually congested intersection.

        Unless we want to put flashing lights on the signs (which could increase the problem for other signs that don’t have the lights), I like the idea of striping it to look like a shoulder except for right turn bays, since driving on a shoulder is not normal driving behavior.

        1. Wayne

          Ignorance of the law is no excuse. I get livid when I have people blocking the box and the crosswalk who just kind of shrug at me and look helpless when I give them a death stare when trying to walk across the street. No, it’s not an ‘oopsie-daisy’ it’s you breaking the law because you are either too stupid or too much of a selfish jerk to drive lawfully. People need to stop thinking a helpless shrug and pleading ignorance gets them off the hook for being bad drivers (althoughI’m sure they scream and throw a fit at other drivers who cut them off or block them). If you are too much of a rube to understand how to drive in the city, THEN STAY OUT OF THE CITY OR LEARN. We’ve got a lovely overfunded suburban express bus system for people too afraid to drive into town, they should probably use it.

          But yes, they need at the very least a solid line or a double solid line to separate the lanes, and I’m still a huge fan of the plastic bollards added to the mix. None of this will happen though.

      2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini Post author

        A shoulder design could definitely work to help enforcement. I do think it’s odd this wasn’t the design to begin with; dashed lines separating the general traffic lane from the bus+bike one with a (faded) sharrow really make the curbside lane look like any other lane. A solid white line except for a turn bay (which would mostly be at every other street through the CBD) would really help make it more visually clear. A further step could be red or green paint on the pavement, which will get scraped off but could be done more permanently during the coming reconstruction of Hennepin (if the layout stays mostly the same, I guess).

        1. Evan RobertsEvan

          Red or green pavement is pretty common to demarcate bus lanes. It really does signal it pretty well in a way that different lane separators are easy to miss.

          Just google image search “bus lane” and it’s pretty obvious what to do.

  2. Wayne

    It’s exceedingly obvious that bus transit is not a priority for the city council or public works by the way they had zero sensible coordination about the detours with metro transit.

    Can we have a protest where we block the parking ramp entrance that the city council uses?

  3. Wayne

    Also my idea from a while back is to separate the right lane from the left with those plastic bollards they use on bike lanes on a few places, except for the last half block before a right turn.

    I’m sure they’d have some excuse about plowing or something though.

  4. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini Post author

    Something that didn’t make it into the post was that Hennepin Ave has been used as a detour route for Nicollet Mall buses in the past. It’s very possible, even likely, that the extra buses won’t cause any issues for operations. It’s worthwhile to point out that from 1980 to late 2009, Hennepin Ave was a 3-lane one-way with a contraflow southbound bus lane, so I’m not sure how applicable any results from previous reroutes are given this difference. I would be happy to be wrong in my assumption that things could be bad this time around.

    1. Wayne

      But back then the car traffic was split between first ave and Hennepin. Now first ave is used a bit less and mostly for local traffic or some people coming to/from 394, with Hennepin taking all the through traffic. As unsafe as the bike lanes used to be on Hennepin, the change was a net loss for transit. If you consider the first ave bike lanes to be a replacement for the Hennepin ones it’s at best a draw for bikes (they’re not terribly safe, although they at least got cars to stop parking in them).

      But the real winners? Cars, as always. They don’t have to navigate a confusing one way split through downtown and essentially got an extra lane from the buses and bikes on Hennepin because the bus/bike lane is no longer enforced.

  5. Scott ShafferScott Shaffer

    In 2013 I asked Shaun Murphy, then Minneapolis bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, about these lanes. As Alex pointed out, the signs used to say “Bus-Bike-Right Turn Only,” but then the “Only” was removed. Shaun said it was removed because police didn’t want to enforce the rule.

    1. Wayne

      The police also don’t do any enforcement around blocking the box or especially the crosswalks. They are pretty much useless when it comes to traffic enforcement, which has turned downtown into a free-for-all for drivers every rush hour.

      1. Julia

        Beyond useless, given that more than once it’s been an MPD SUV I’ve seen blocking the crosswalk or idling in the bike lane. Or sitting doing nothing but looking at a driver totally blocking the crosswalk and forcing people to walk into oncoming traffic just to cross.

      2. Rosa

        they’ve stopped being actively anti-pedestrian or anti-bike at least. Give it another 20 years, they might do something about box blocking. Depends on activism and how city government pressures them.

  6. Matt Brillhart

    Alex (Bauman) sort of hinted at this in his comment, but Public Works actually put white tape over the word “Only” on those signs, shortly after they were installed.


    I think what Alex is saying is that MPD basically said they could not enforce this rule, and Public Works responded by covering the word “only”, so now the signs read “Right Lane: Buses, bikes & right turns”. I’m guessing there may have been a City Attorney’s opinion related to this action. Though I’m not sure why they needed to tape over a word if the police weren’t going to enforce it anyways…

    If anyone is mad enough to rattle off a few emails about this, asking your councilmember or the PW Director why “ONLY” is covered up would be a good start. This seems like an area we could actually effect change. Get a few like-minded councilmembers and the Mayor on board and we could see new signs and actual enforcement.

  7. Wayne

    Oh also, for anyone who doesn’t ride the ever-shifting detour on a daily basis, they had some traffic cops in vests (or maybe metro transit ones? it was hard to tell) out on hennepin where the buses turn on and off directing traffic to give buses some extra turning time. I doubt they’ll keep them there for long (especially not once winter hits) so I don’t know why they even bothered except to make it seem like the detour will go smoothly for the first week or two before letting everything fall apart like it’s bound to.

    The AM rush is always a little smoother, so it wasn’t too bad yet. But even still there were cars pulled halfway into the intersection (blocking both the crosswalk and part of the outside lane) from a sidestreet that the buses had to dodge along the way. Oh and the buses started using the bike lanes along 12th for a little bit, then at the turn to lasalle a car pulled up between the bus and the curb (in the bike or parking lane? not sure which it is) and tried to cut the bus off for its right turn. So yeah, this is going to be great if drivers are already behaving this way.

  8. Alex

    To be fair, compliance with the bus-only lanes on Marq2 seems to have gone downhill recently as well. I always see tons of private automobiles, taxis, and bikes traveling in the bus-only lanes at rush hour despite the ubiquitous light-up overhead signs. A lot of people just don’t care about the rules. Compliance actually seemed to be much better when the Marq2 lanes were new. I also periodically see people driving in the one-way bus-only lane on 4th Street from time to time. One time I even saw a car drive down the train tracks through the Government Plaza station!

    Anyway, this is hardly a Hennepin problem. Enforcement of bus-only lanes throughout Downtown really needs to be stepped up because obviously tons of people are getting away with noncompliance every day and aren’t facing any penalties for doing so.

    1. Wayne

      Compliance with basic traffic laws is pretty poor in general, not just bus-related ones. The city could get rich if they wrote tickets for box-blocking and entering crosswalks with pedestrians in them. Or red light running (I generally see 1-2x cars running nearly every light during rush hour).

      1. Justin

        I’ve talked to Sue Roethele (Crime Prevention Specialist) and she told me in no uncertain terms that the MPD essentially doesn’t do traffic enforcement at all. Sure, they’ll pull you over if it’s extremely blatant but otherwise, they’re not doing much.

  9. Sam

    I rode the 18 on Hennepin on Saturday mid-day. I was impressed that Metro Transit had all the signs updated already, and the driver seemed to be well trained on the updated route. However, the positive’s ended there. At least at the stop I was waiting, very bad crowd on Hennepin. People were opening doing drugs, one asked me to buy a cigaratte from him so he could buy some weed, and another was vomitting with an open bottle in his hand. I want 3rd ave back!!!!! The 18 had never run so smoothly.

    I’ll be very curious to see how things are during the afternoon rush hour today. As everyone seem to agree, I think it will be awful. Interesting that you bring San Fran up. I was there a couple weeks ago and was very impressed with how smoothly boarding went using any door. That being said, at least half the people entering through the rear door did not pay. Of course this is in no means a valuable statistic since I’m sure many of them had paper transfers or transfer on their card (IDK if they are supposed to re-swipe), however I’m also sure that some of them just weren’t paying.

    Metro transit police can’t even keep up with fare checking on LRT, so it’d be almost guaranteed free ride on these local bus routes.

  10. UrbanDoofus

    I’m all for enforcing that bus lane, as not doing so makes for a poor bus experience. But unfortunately it just doesn’t seem like it will be high on the priority list considering what else is going on during the day on Hennepin.

    So far I’ve seen red lights being blown routinely and open drug selling mentioned, both of which I’ve seen while driving and busing down Henne through DT. Arguably, those issues are more serious, and if they aren’t stopped, I don’t see much hope for lane enforcement. Build a tunnel, or construct a flyover!

  11. Pingback: Sunday Summary – November 15, 2015 |

Comments are closed.